to prepare an ox tongue en croute (1)
The first two recipes in Book V of the Opera are for the preparation of tongue as a pie. It’s not the dish most of us would expect to start a book on pies with, but it makes a lot of sense in context.
Cattle provide many pounds of meat, but the tongue, which is rich, tender, and profoundly beefy in flavor, is only two to four pounds of service quality food. It is considered a luxury meat in many cuisines, though it does present challenges to the preparation,
Tongue must be skinned before service. It also must be trimmed carefully, If you do not know how to do this, look for a video to guide you, or ask for assistance the first time.
It also has a reputation for being “creepy meat”, for looking too much like what it is. This alone makes pie a thoughtful presentation; even if the diners know what they are getting, they do not have to confront it visually in a way they might otherwise find challenging.
These two recipes specify ox, working cattle, but also permit cow or buffalo cow using the same instructions. The recipes are somewhat mix and match, or perhaps more, choose your own adventure. Direction is given for whole or sliced, cooked or raw (scalded), pickled (raw) or plain, and salted/pressed or not.
I opted to scald, slice, pickle, not press, then place in pastry and bake.
The tongue I had in the freezer came improperly trimmed, so I spend about two hours cleaning it. I was displeased. Skinning also took rather longer than intended. I should have allowed it to sit in the poaching water longer, but did not want to negatively affect the pickling process.
I then sliced the meat into slices which I now feel to have been too thick for the most pleasing pie, though at the end it worked out.
The pickling vinegar was very pleasing, and added a lovely layer of flavor. The instructions specified 8 hours, but it was in the brine for 12 hours. Due to the thickness of my slices, it was not problematic.
After the meat was removed from the brine, I built a crust. The book gives a lot of suggestions about what kinds of crusts to use, how to prepare them, what seasons and conditions are appropriate for what crusts, but it doesn’t give the kind of directions that I, a non-baker, can easily extrapolate into the required product.
The directions specifically state “make up a dough with unsalted cold water” which to me implies that there is such a thing in this repertoire as warm water dough, as I am accustomed to using for coffyns. The instructions go on to explain how to knead it, when to apply fat, and that the dough will work best if it remains cold.
Instructions called for sifting the flour well to remove bran. I did use a locally milled soft wheat flour, and did sift it. For every cup of sieved flour, I had a cup of bran left behind.
The book specified a free-form pie rather than one fitted to a pie pan, but frankly I was unwilling to risk the floor of my oven. I had little trust in my crust, and expected odd behaviour from the meat. I used a pie pan. My crust was too small, so I was forced to create a false wall with aluminum foil. Unfortunately, my crust was a miserable failure. Though tasty, it was by no means a good case to contain the dish. I will try a completely different approach to the crust next time.
I removed the meat from the pickling seasonings and drained it, but did not blot.
After laying the meat into the base of the crust, placing on a lovely layer of salt fat, seasoning and closing the crust, I baked it in a 400* oven, as the book said to bake it at a temperature suitable for bread. I used my nose to tell me when it was done, and was pretty on the ball with that. Unfortunately, the temperature was too high for the melting point of the fat in the meat, and did some damage.
After being quite sad to see how poorly the dish turned out, we took everthing apart after it had cooled completely, chopped it into small pieces, and sauteed it. It was absolutely delicious. My guest was concerned by the concept of eating tongue, but expressed delight in the dish. Gingerbrede made an excellent dessert.
Recipe and sub recipes;
1 whole beef tongue, prepared
Pickle brine (below)
Spice blend (below)
1 oz prosciutto trim (ask your deli for an end, if possible)
1 sturdy pasty (not pastry) crust
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
(double the salt and pepper, quadruple the rest, if you prefer not to pickle)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (thin a little with water if it is very sharp)
1/2 cup white wine (I used a moscato)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 TBS salt
1/4 TBS pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed well. (use the salt as an abrasive to help break the cloves well)
2 TBS mustum ( I did not use this, as I am running out)
poach or parcook meat ( I should have poached longer)
skin and trim meat
slice into service escalopes (I should have sliced much thinner)
pickle if desired
dress with fat or prosciutto (proscuitto tasted better)
seal crust, make vent
bake at 350*
oil crust on removal from oven, or wash with saffron water, but do not egg wash.
Do a better job than I did, please. When I get it right I will post this recipe again.
(NOTE: There are no photographs or beauty shots of this dish because it is not attractive to look at. I did photograph the entire process, so if you need reference images please do not hesitate to contact me.)